Mississippi Gulf Coast with Kids, A Surprising Beach Destination




Mississippi makes a surprising beach destination for families. It’s affordable, fun, and beautiful. So why is this destination often overlooked? Because travelers just don’t think of Mississippi when planning their beach vacations. That means less crowds and better deals for those in the know! Biloxi, Gulfport, Ocean Springs, Pass Christian and other Mississippi beach towns provide plenty of attractions and charm. Take a look at these 17 things to do along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids.

Mississippi Gulf Coast beach

This story is brought to you in partnership with Coastal Mississippi, the official regional tourism entity representing Mississippi’s three coastal counties: Jackson, Harrison and Hancock.

Table of Contents

1. Visit the beach.

Let’s start on the sandy shores of the Mississippi Gulf Coast! This southern state offers 62 miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico, overlooking the Mississippi Sound. That includes 26 miles of white sand beaches. What’s more, the waters are typically warm and shallow, making Mississippi an especially alluring beach destination for families with young children. You’ll often find playgrounds close to the shore, too. Meanwhile bigger kids and teens will love renting jet skis to tool around the Gulf. Mom and dad can cool off with a tropical cocktail or craft beer at one of four Shaggy’s locations (three along the coast), served up alongside fresh seafood for all.

Banana Daiquiri at Shaggy's Pass Christian Harbor

2. Meet alligators at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours.

Families love to feed alligators, go on an airboat ride and even cuddle a baby gator at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours in Moss Point. This was my 11-year-old son, Leo’s absolute favorite thing that we did during our mother-son Mississippi Gulf Coast family vacation.

Feed alligators at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

What kid wouldn’t want to toss treats to a bunch of snapping gators?! (From behind the safety of a secured fence, of course.) For a fun photo op, brave children and parents can take a turn holding a baby alligator, whose jaws are securely shut.

Baby alligator at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours

We saw a couple of wild alligators during our airboat tour. Meanwhile, Captain Frog (our airboat guide) explained a bit to us about local wildlife and plants. The most thrilling part, though, was our speedy tour around the bayou. Hold on to your children for zippy 180 and 360 turns! Children must be at least 4 to embark on a swamp boat tour, but I might hold off until at least 6 or so. Note: pregnant women are not permitted to ride for safety reasons.

Bayou view at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Airboat Tours

3. Catch shellfish on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip.

Get out on the Gulf during a Biloxi Shrimping Trip. Not only can you take in gorgeous water views, but also your kids can see how shrimp are caught using a net dragged behind the boat. Then get a chance to hold the fresh catch, whether it’s a pile of shrimp or a blue crab snared in the net.

A freshly caught blue crab on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

Best of all may be T.J. the beer and soda delivery dog! If the heat isn’t too bad, head up to the roof of the boat and wait for T.J. to climb the stairs, loaded up with cans of cold beverages to dole out to passengers.

T.J. the beverage delivery dog on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip

4. Eat fresh Mississippi Gulf Coast fish and seafood.

For seafood lovers, Mississippi Gulf Coast is heaven! Here you’ll find truly JUMBO shrimp at extremely reasonable prices. During shrimping season in summer, you can buy fresh shrimp directly off boats in harbor for just a few dollars per pound. Crab legs are bountiful and affordably priced, too.

Fresh Blue Crab Claws at Shaggy's Gulfport

If you don’t have cooking facilities or prefer to dine out, seafood restaurants are easy to find. McElroy’s is a local favorite, particularly for weekend brunches. This local chain has two locations, one in Ocean Springs and another in Biloxi. McElroy’s Harbor House offers great views of the Gulf and makes a good choice before or after your Biloxi Shrimping Trip since they share a parking lot.

Harbor Snapper Special at McElroy's in Mississippi Gulf Coast

My son and I absolutely loved Half Shell Oyster House in downtown Gulfport. (There are three other Mississippi locations.) Expect southern and Cajun specialties like shrimp and grits, blackened red fish, and poor boy sandwiches. Of course, there are lots of oyster options as well, including on the half shell, charbroiled, fried and more. Steaks here are also delicious, especially when topped with lump crab meat or jumbo shrimp!

Big Easy Surf and Turf at Half Shell Oyster House

5. Cool Off at Gulf Islands Waterpark.

If your family enjoys waterparks as much as mine does, you’re in for a treat at Gulf Islands Waterpark in Gulfport. A wave pool, lazy river, net pool crossing, splash play areas, and plenty of waterslides will keep all ages content and cool for hours. For thrill seekers, the Horn Island Blaster water roller coaster is the star attraction with more than 500 feet of twists and turns plus 45-degree drops.

Gulf Islands Waterpark in Mississippi Gulf Coast with children

6. Enjoy the small-town feel in Ocean Springs.

Ocean Springs charms visitors with its southern hospitality and walkable small-town USA feel. On Sunday mornings, wander through the town’s wee farmer’s market to peruse homegrown and handmade goodies. The beachfront Fort Maurepas City Park features a ship playground and splash pad to please the kids.

Miner's Doll & Toy Store in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

You’ll find all sorts of boutique stores and local restaurants in downtown Ocean Springs. Most notable for families are the Lovelace Drug Store with its old school soda fountain, The Candy Cottage sweets shop, and Miner’s Doll & Toy Store. Be sure to stop by Pop Brothers for a gourmet popsicle — choose from such flavors as Cherry Coke Float or Oreo Cheesecake.

Handmade popsicles at Pop Brothers in Ocean Springs, Mississippi with kids

7. Eat BBQ and listen to the blues at The Shed.

Barbecue is a must in the South, even along the coast. You’ll have to drive to reach The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint, but you’ll be glad you did. Not sure what to order? Get the ShedHed Sampler for a bit of everything! It features all seven of their slow-cooked meats, plus a choice of three sides like MommaMia’s Mac Salad or Collard Greens with smoked pork renderings.

ShedHed barbecue sampler platter at The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint in Coastal Mississippi with kids

On weekend nights, enjoy free live blues music at this joint. While you’re waiting for your grub, play a round or two of cornhole or take a walk along the bayou. Just be sure to keep watch of young children and your eyes open for gators!

Beautiful sunset at The Shed in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

8. Take the kids to Big Play Entertainment Center.

Kids will thank you after an excursion to Big Play Entertainment Center in Biloxi. Amusements abound with miniature golf, go-carts, bowling, laser tag, bumper cars, and video games with prize tickets. A full-service restaurant (complete with grown-up drinkies) is available. Go on Sunday, when kids eat free!

Miniature golf course at Big Play Entertainment Center in Biloxi with kids

9. Get a biscuit and set a spell at Greenhouse on Porter Ave.

What could be more Southern than a flakey, freshly baked biscuit? Get your biscuit fix at Greenhouse on Porter Ave. Located in Ocean Springs, this unique eatery is a fun experience for families. Choose from their daily biscuit offerings, including a gluten-free version for sensitive eaters like me. If you’re looking for something more substantial, then you can order yours topped with such additions as cold ham and cheese or warm tomatoes and melted cheese. They also serve a wide variety of tasty beverages including coffees, teas, craft sodas, and hot chocolate.

Biscuits and hot chocolate with Marigold the cat at Greenhouse on Porter Ave

This place is named Greenhouse for a reason — you’ll literally eat your biscuits inside a greenhouse shed. Alternatively, you can pull up a chair at a table outside and make friends with resident extra-toed cat, Marigold. Board games and bug spray are free to borrow.

Inside Greenhouse on Porter Ave in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

10. Hike, fish or picnic at Gulf Islands National Seashore at Davis Bayou.

According to the National Park Service, “Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches for 160 miles along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Mississippi and Florida, and includes barrier islands, maritime forests, historic forts, bayous, and marine habitat.”

Great Blue Heron at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Head to the stretch of this seashore at Davis Bayou in Mississippi to satisfy your nature cravings. Enjoy hiking trails, picnic areas, and the William M. Colmer Visitor Center with indoor exhibits about the shore and islands. Anglers can purchase a license to go fishing and there’s a boat launch here for seafarers. Be sure to keep little ones close when exploring the marsh area because alligators do inhabit the waters.

Looking for wild alligators at Gulf Islands National Seashore at Davis Bayou with kids

11. Play and learn at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center.

Not sure what to do on a rainy day when visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids? Head to Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport! Here, families learn about science, history, nature through play in 15,000-square-feet of hands-on exhibits. Children will enjoy indoor educational art projects, a kid-sized grocery store, and a make-believe veterinarian center with stuffed animal “patients.” Outdoor exhibits provide opportunities to learn about solar power, music and more. The museum is designed for children aged 10 and younger, with the Bear Camp Bayou exhibit specifically for newborns through age 4. Entry is free 5 to 8 pm on the last Friday of every month.

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center

12. Drink a Barq’s Root Beer.

Barq’s Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer was created by Edward Barq in Biloxi in 1871. Sales of this sweet drink went through the roof during the prohibition era. Now bottled by the Coca-Cola company, Barq’s is still a local favorite. Look for the original blue and white glass bottles in eateries and shops. Keep in mind that unlike most root beers, Barq’s root beer does contain some caffeine.

Drink a Barq's root beer when visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids

13. Count Waffle Houses.

One of the first things we noticed while driving through Mississippi was the abundance of Waffle Houses. It’s hard to miss them. It seems there’s a Waffle House on every corner! This state is home to 88 of this southern chain restaurant’s 2,100+ locations. Waffles are one of my son’s all-time favorite foods, so for sure we had to come here for breakfast a couple of times during our visit.

Waffle House in Mississippi Gulf Coast

These restaurants are open 24 hours a day, serving up comfort foods like grits, eggs, burgers, and, of course, waffles. Service is fast, prices are low, and the food is good and greasy. Make a game of counting waffle houses when visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids. It just might help keep your kids’ eyes focused on the scenery rather than on their smart phones. We spotted 12 Waffle Houses in one day alone!

Waffle House waffle

14. Splurge on a meal at White Pillars Restaurant.

For a more refined dining experience, make reservations at White Pillars Restaurant. Splurge on date night here or take the kids to a special weekend lunch or Sunday jazz brunch. Eleven-year-old Leo, a hamburger enthusiast, declared White Pillar’s Bone Marrow & Steak Burger the best he’s ever tasted!

The restaurant is located within an impressive Neoclassical mansion, which was the home of a wealthy doctor and his family in the early 1900s. It later became a popular fine dining restaurant in the 1970s and 80s before it sat empty for nearly 30 years. Chef Owner Austin Sumrall and his wife have restored the building to its former Gone with the Wind-esque glory.

White Pillars fine dining restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi

15. Visit the Biloxi Visitors Center.

Free to the public, the Biloxi Visitors Center is worth a brief visit. Wander through displays that provide insight to Biloxi’s past. Of course, you can also ask staff for recommendations for exploring the area and pick up attraction brochures at the center. The best part is the theater upstairs, which shows a 10-minute movie called “We Are Biloxi” on a loop. Another brief film, specifically about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the area, is shown at select posted times.

Biloxi Visitors Center

16. Climb aboard the Biloxi Tour Train.

If traveling with older kids or teens, your family might enjoy the Biloxi Train Tour. This 90-minute tour chugs through Biloxi’s streets and the area’s history. Take in the sights from the seat of the “train,” including Main Street Biloxi, the Biloxi Lighthouse, and the building where Barq’s root beer was initially made and sold. The tour makes just one stop — at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, which commemorates the 170 Mississippi Gulf Coast victims who lost their lives during the 2006 storm.

Biloxi Tour Train

17. Attend the Annual South Mississippi Summer Fair.

If visiting Mississippi Gulf Coast with children during the summer, plan to attend the Annual South Mississippi Summer Fair. This seaside fair takes place during the first two weeks of June at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center in Biloxi. Expect carnival rides and games, fun houses, a petting zoo, pig races, fair food, and live entertainment.

Annual South Mississippi Summer Fair roller coaster

Where to Stay on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with Kids

Courtyard by Marriott – Gulfport Beachfront

My son and I stayed at Courtyard by Marriott – Gulfport during our mother-son vacation. Located right across the street from the beach and within walking distance of a few family-friendly restaurants, this midrange hotel makes a good base for exploring the Mississippi Gulf Coast with children. A large palm tree-lined pool is the perfect place to cool off after a day on the go. Although there’s no full-service restaurant in the hotel, you can grab breakfast items and lite bites in the lounge. A convenient 24-hour on-site market carries snacks, drinks and necessities. Tip: grab free bottled waters in the onsite fitness center.

Courtyard by Marriott - Gulfport Beachfront pool

Margaritaville Resort & Family Entertainment Center

A 450-foot lazy river, swim-up pool bar, and rooftop waterpark lure families to Margaritaville Resort. Kids can even swim with “mermaids” here! A huge game arcade will keep children content, too. Even if you’re not staying here, stop by Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville for their famous Cheeseburger in Paradise, live music and tropical frozen drinks (with or without alcohol).

Margaritaville's rooftop waterpark in Biloxi, Mississippi

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino

If glitz and glam are what you seek, then reserve a room at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Located right on the water in Biloxi, families love this MGM resort’s stunning pool and on-site video game arcade. A spa, five on-site restaurants, a Haagen Dazs ice cream shop, and round-the-clock room service add to the allure of a stay here.

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino

The Inn at Ocean Springs and The Roost

If I ever come back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a romantic getaway (and I hope I do!), I’ll book a stay at The Inn at Ocean Springs. It’s got just two sumptuously decorated rooms, located in the heart of Ocean Springs’ quaint downtown. Families could book out both rooms for extra space.

Sister property, The Roost, would make a fabulous choice as well. Also in Ocean Springs, this house has been transformed into a boutique hotel featuring 11 suites. Some offer separate living/sleeping spaces plus kitchenettes — perfect for families!

The Inn at Ocean Springs

Mississippi Beach Vacation Tips

Are you surprised by all there is to do in Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids? I know I was. If you’re seeking a fun and affordable family beach vacation, then you’ll love exploring the Mississippi Gulf Coast!

Get more tips from CoastalMississippi.com or call Coastal Mississippi toll-free at 1.888.467.4853.

MIssissippi Gulf Coast with Kids

MIssissippi Gulf Coast with Kids

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If you liked this story, I bet you’ll love this round-up of the 10 best beach hotels for kids and these tips for exploring Alabama Gulf Shores with kids.

Have you ever visited Mississippi Gulf Coast with kids or without? Share your tips or questions in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: My son and I were hosted by Coastal Mississippi, Courtyard by Marriott – Gulfport Beachfront, and some of the restaurants and attractions listed in this story. I will receive monetary compensation related to this blog post as well. All opinions are mine, as always.